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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Advice after 50 years

    Rebecca Marie Sasnett

    Donna Swaim, senior lecturer emerita, sits in her office Friday, which is filled with student projects and student gifts. Swaim is retiring after working 50 years at the University of Arizona.

    Donna Swaim is, in a way, graduating as well — not as a student with a degree, but as a 50-year faculty member. Swaim is retiring and leaving an extensive legacy behind at the UA. She taught English composition for five years, taught in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program for 35 years and taught in the Religious Studies Program for 10 years. For 20 years, Swaim has served as faculty fellow for the Athletics Department, and she has served as faculty member for Native American Student Affairs for four. She’s also made significant contributions to study abroad opportunities for UA students and led many academic trips abroad all over the world.

    For graduating students looking for some parting wisdom or for anyone who didn’t take a class with Swaim, she reflected on her time here at the UA and the lessons she’s learned from life.

    Those undergraduate years are magic, because that’s when you’re really finding out who you are and making decisions about who you want to be — but not on the basis of societal values, but because you’ve discovered things about yourself.

    The best education is not a matter of acquiring data so that you can make a living, but it’s acquiring experiences so that you know how to live.

    On her mentorship with students: “Not only do you meet kids when they’re freshmen, but you’re there when they graduate. Now that’s special.”

    I used to tell students on our trips abroad: ‘Whatever you expect this trip to be, it won’t be that. There will be some things so bad, you’ll wonder why you ever came. And there will be some things so wonderful, you can’t imagine never having done it.’
    If you have the ability to make human connections, which I assume everyone does, then you have a responsibility to do it. And the way to make those connections is just to drop your guard.

    Say ‘hi’ to a perfect stranger, and then watch them smile. It’s the most satisfying thing in the world. Because you never know when somebody needed you to say hi.

    One of the principles of spirituality that I taught in my Spirituality in the Arts class is that you have something to learn from everybody. Every human being has something to teach you. So just talk to people.

    On money versus wealth: “You need enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table, and you want to save some money so that you can go travel. But the real wealth comes in people and experiences.”
    On variety: “I collect people. If you collect people, if you really realize how different everybody is, you’ll have variety.”

    Life is far too wonderful to worry. Live and appreciate. Appreciate that you are alive. … There are lots of different ways to get to a really satisfying life, and you don’t necessarily know what those ways are. But if you’re doing something you like doing, you’ll be fine. And it’s OK to change your mind, because you’ve acquired knowledge. Because I had never intended to teach at the university for 50 years. It just happened because I loved doing it and would get another chance to do it, and it worked out.

    With her approachable demeanor, abundance of wisdom and kind heart, Swaim has touched thousands of students’ lives over the past 50 years. Even though she’s now officially retired, Swaim plans to volunteer her time to the UA so that she can continue to build relationships with students and lend help where it’s needed.

    “I’m addicted to undergraduates,” she said.

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